For your Emmys consideration: Vicki Farrell's classy, campy designs
When Amy Sedaris decided to forge an offbeat path through home show satire for her TruTV comedy At Home with Amy Sedaris, she knew she had to dress the part of a whimsically deranged domestic diva to tie the whole package together. Luckily her longtime collaborative costume designer Vicki Farrell — a Sedaris staple who preivously worked on Strangers with Candy — was ready to meet her at the intersection of class and camp in a world where homeless drifters, wine peddlers, aliens, and pantsuits converge in a glitter bomb of DIY fashion fantasy. For your Emmys consideration in the Outstanding Costumes for Variety, Nonfiction, or Reality Programming category, check out EW’s craft-centric interview with Farrell ahead (along with several exclusive concept sketches from her creative closet).
For a series rooted in lampooning home shows, Sedaris has taken the character — an embellished version of herself hosting a charmingly whacky sendup of a home-and-self-improvement program — to some out-of-this-world places, including outer space. And Farrell’s intuitive connection with the show’s themes helped get her there on the costuming end, like one giant arts & crafts project in itself. “It’s about making things out of things you have, a lot of the time. I’m so happy I never had to go shopping in any stores… we had a big store room full of stuff. I emptied my storage space for the first time in 15 years,” she tells EW, noting that her space-inspired creations were created with some leftover body suits and styrofoam balls. “I just kept drawing for everything worked on. There was just this grab bag full of stuff, so I pulled that all out and spread it out in the storage space. It’s such great material to work with.”
Farrell gave Amy's personal style a glamorous boost
“With Amy, for herself, there’s that side that’s very crafty, but there’s that side that’s kind of glamorous, with 1950s dresses in persimmons colors,” explains Farrell. “It was fun to put together colors. We were into the colors of old photographs and yellows and persimmons, beautiful blues, and gravy greens. So that makes it really fun, too.”
Sophia Loren, drag queens, and more pop cultural icons crept into Amy's wardrobe
“Amy and I do a lot of exchanging of pictures and video clips. Original Barbie clothing has been a big influence on the show. I also love people’s homemade Barbie clothing from the ‘60s. What I came back to again and again was a lot of Sophia Loren from her entertaining period, where she’d wear thick suede belts and peasant tops in the 1970s,” says Farrell. “Definitely a lot of TV shows, too, variety shows like Mary Tyler Moore, [a little] Carol Burnett, I Love Lucy, and a little Julia Child thrown in there. There’s some Lady Bunny in the show, too!”
Hobo chic for less
A large chunk of Farrell’s designs are actually “scrounged” from vintage shops or even Sedaris’ personal collection, which adds to the show’s genuine, homespun vibe. With particular regards to a drifter (also played by Sedaris) who lives on the fictional Amy’s property. “I made the hobo out of all this stuff I found. There was a costume house in New York called Odds, but it was a really weird, old costume house. You kind of had to go in there and if you wanted them to rent to you, you had to woo them with croissants and cappuccinos and stuff,” Farrell explains. “They had a big sale and it was right around Strangers with Candy time. The stuff I got from them, they had this really old stuff for nothing. I filled a bag with like, tattered tuxedo jackets from the 1900s. From out of that bag came the hobo.”
Patty Hogg exudes wealth and weird all rolled into one
In addition to starring as herself, Sedaris plays several supporting cast members on the show, including Patty Hogg, Amy’s wealthy neighbor whom has since become a fan-favorite thanks in part to her colorful attire. But getting there for Farrell was a bit of a challenge at first, mostly due to Sedaris’ signature, unorthodox approach to generating creative inspiration. “A lot of times with Amy… she’ll just give you one sentence and you go from there. When I first met her for Strangers with Candy, for the character of Jerri Blank, she just said to me: ‘She’s a snake lover.’ That’s all she would say,” Farrell admits. “But, somehow, I kind of completely understood that… when Amy was developing Patty, we didn’t quite know where it was going. She said, ‘Oh, she’s a rich lady.’ That’s the only direction.”
... and her pantsuit evolution rivals Hillary Clinton's
“She was so much fun to dress. I’ve already started working on clothes for her [for season 2],” Farrell says of Hogg. “We were [initially] thinking pastel power skirt suits, and then we hit upon pantsuits. I saw a place that had a few really cool, colored ‘70s pantsuits. And then I came up with… building a barrel body: No waist, like 38-38-38 measurements straight down. And when you put these cool, colorful pantsuits over that body, it just clicked.”
Farrell pulled double duty for the show's acting doubles
Sedaris’ affinity for occupying multiple roles is a performative feat, but dressing her — and her scene doubles — was an equally monumental task for Farrell’s talents, too. “Not only did I have to design the costumes and make them, but I had to design and make them [for the] double… you can’t just go out and say, ‘I’m going to find a beautiful vintage pantsuit,’ because you need two of them,” she remembers. Thankfully, she calls herself a “builder” and rose to the challenge throughout season 1, as Sedaris’ multiple personalities spring forth in every episode.
Vintage cinema met vintage clothes in Chassie's closet
Every hero needs a sidekick, and Amy found one in Chassie Tucker, her chic housewife neighbor played straight out of a 1950s sitcom. The best part? Chassie — a woman on the show — is played by male actor Cole Escola (Girlboss), whom Farrell says had the perfect body for a legion of pre-made dresses. “I had a secret inspiration for Chassie… There’s a movie called Wanda by Barbara Loden, it’s set in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s in a Pennsylvania mining town, and the character reminds me of Chassie,” she says of her initial thoughts for the character. “She meets a thief and goes on a road trip with him robbing places, and he gives her some money. She goes to a K-Mart and comes out with this great outfit… I never told Cole or Amy that, but that was my secret influence for Chassie! The white bag, too!”
Chassie's holiday attire worked thanks to Sedaris' personal collection
“I love how Chassie’s little, hard white handbag became such a character, like she always has that thing with her. She definitely came from trying some actual vintage things we had. Her holiday dress is an old holiday costume that Amy owned that fit Cole… it’s easy to fit him in those beautiful things,” continues Farrell. “That wasn’t something I made. That was something Amy brought in…. it fit Cole like a glove. That was a magical moment! I love that kind of thing, too, where a man is wearing a woman’s dress, but not all padded up. There was no padding involved, that’s just his shape!”
A tiny bit of Jerri Blank crept into the creative process, too
“I didn’t care for the Regional Wine Lady [at first]. I was a little worried through the whole thing that Jerri Blank was going to show up,” Farrell admits of the character, who often appears in Amy’s kitchen to sing about the pleasures of intoxication. “I feel like she does end up being there a little bit in the regional wine lady. She wears the same boots and caps and fringe jeans and stuff.”
Farrell and Sedaris often started with a single idea and snowballed the concept into someting magical
“Every character is very different and a lot of times Amy was coming up with some of them last minute… you can hand her a thing, like with Nutmeg, she kept going back to this one pink scarf… it describes the costume in a way to Amy. It was developed from the idea of her being a little girl who likes to dress up. For Nutmeg it was that scarf… but that took us on a journey of a little girl dressing up, which took us into ruffled dresses, which took me — since I had limited time — to using this book called Shortcuts to Elegance where you take a pattern and lay it out and then you cut around the pieces instead of doing each piece separately. She became a fabric version of paper doll clothes.